A multimodal approach to visual thinking: the scientific sketchnote
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© 2018, The Author(s) 2018. There is a growing interest in the use of visual thinking techniques for promoting conceptual thinking in problem solving tasks as well as for reducing the complexity of ideas expressed in scientific and technical formats. The products of visual thinking, such as sketchnotes, graphics and diagrams, consist of ‘multimodal complexes’ that combine language, images, mathematical symbolism and various other semiotic resources. This article adopts a social semiotic perspective, more specifically a Systemic Functional Multimodal Discourse Analysis approach, to study the underlying semiotic mechanisms through which visual thinking makes complex scientific content accessible. To illustrate the approach, the authors analyse the roles of language, images, and mathematical graphs and symbolism in four sketchnotes based on scientific literature in physics. The analysis reveals that through the process of resemiotization, where meanings are transformed from one semiotic system to another, the abstractness of specialized discourses such as physics and mathematics is reduced by multimodal strategies which include reformulating the content in terms of entities which participate in observable (i.e. tangible) processes and enhancing the reader/viewer’s engagement with the text. Moreover, the compositional arrangement creates clear stages in the development of the ideas and arguments that are presented. In this regard, visual thinking is a form of cultural communication through which abstract ideas are translated and explained using a multimodal outline or summary of essential parts by adapting resources (e.g. linguistic resources and mathematical graphs), using new resources (e.g. stick figures and other simple schematic drawings) and maintaining others from the original text (e.g. mathematical symbolic notation), resulting in a congruent (or concrete) depiction of abstract concepts and ideas for a non-specialist audience.
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